“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.

“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.

“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.

“Valley Girl, 1983”

“It’s like I’m totally not in love with you anymore, Tommy. I mean it’s so boring!”

Valley Girl, 1983 (Nicolas Cage), Atlantic Releasing Corp.

This is one of those movies everybody has to say they love or they won’t be taken seriously. If you say you don’t like Valley Girl (God help you), you’ll get nothing but icy stares for the rest of your existence. I don’t mind saying it. I don’t care for this movie. We have four girls, friends, hanging out in the mall, scarfing down cheeseburgers and milkshakes. They don’t seem to get fat. They go shopping for clothing and run up huge credit card bills. They bitch and moan and lust after the boys and go to big parties in the Valley. The Wikipedia has a curious definition for the quintessential Valley girl: “Originally referring to upper-middle class girls from the Los Angeles commuter towns of San Fernando Valley during the 1980s, the term in later years became more broadly applied to any English-speaking female who engendered the associated affects of ditziness, airheadedness, and/or greater interest in conspicuous consumption than intellectual or personal accomplishment.” I had no idea the definition had gone that far off the rails. Running up $200 credit card bills in 1983 doesn’t strike me as upper-middle class.

Idiots and their collars.

For the purposes of story, we have to focus on Deborah Foreman. Though hirstute thespian Nicolas Cage gets top-billing, this is Foreman’s movie. Her toothy, amiable countenance drives the plot. She checks out Cage on the beach while her friends mock his awkward masculine dowdiness. Referencing the quote above, Foreman breaks it off with boring Tommy, so he looks up her best friend, Elizabeth Daily. If Foreman is a “valley girl”, what’s Cage? I would say he’s a “grody dweeb,” whatever that is. They lock eyes at said bitchin’ party. He surveys the crowd like they’re a bunch of circus freaks. I guess there’s a pecking order for weirdos. Daily feels guilty, but Tommy’s a douche who refuses to adjust the collar of his sensible polo shirt. I think I hate Tommy, and I will give the movie credit for making me feel things about the characters. Tommy winds up in fisticuffs with Nicolas Cage which, I would assume, ostracizes Cage within the local youth community, but he seems to be a misfit anyway, so it doesn’t matter. He’s considered a “punk,” even though he tends to dress and behave just like everybody else. Cage is smitten with Deborah, even though she totally looks like she’s about 35.

A frustrated Cage tells his friend, “Nobody is gonna tell me who I can score with!” All of this plays out against the star-like background of Los Angeles; a gorgeous sight at night, the glittering metropolis bordered by treacherous canyons. It’s strange. For a movie obstensibly about kids for kids of that age, there’s a lot of sex and profanity. This isn’t family friendly like a John Hughes movie, though it looks impressive for a comparatively low budget movie (reputedly, the film’s music took up half of the production budget). Weird that it feels as though Foreman’s character is going through some kind of a mid-life crisis when she decides to ditch the party to hang out with Cage, entering a world of bars and being frisked. His friend describes this as “living on the edge.” Really? Seems pretty tame to me, but I’m from New York, where “punk” was invented and people get frisked during Sunday mass. Cage and Foreman work incredibly well together, which is fortunate for director Martha Coolidge, as the whole movie depends on it while sailing a sea of boring, inexplicably disaffected youth and rebellion.

Speaking of inexplicable, there’s a ridiculous subplot involving the mother of one of the girls trying to pick up a delivery boy. If you want to introduce subplots, you should probably do it early in the movie when the audience might care. At this point (halfway through) all we care about is the budding relationship between Cage and Foreman. I wanted to see more from Foreman’s parents (Frederic Forrest and Colleen Camp), apparently ex-hippies who run a health food restaurant. The movie takes great pains to show that youth is youth, no matter the backdrop, no matter a generational divide. As Foreman’s parents express concern and worry for their daughter, they remind themselves that their youthful behavior was far more dangerous. While an interesting cultural diversion, the movie fails for me because it offers nothing. There are no characters I understand, and nothing I can relate to, even as a kid scratching my head and trying to figure it all out. Cage, for me, is a repulsive young actor with no charm and no charisma. There are a total of two movies he did that I liked: Raising Arizona and Vampire’s Kiss. Coolidge later made the superior Real Genius in 1985.

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.

“Time After Time, 1979”

“Ninety years ago I was a freak. Today I’m an amateur.”

Time After Time, 1979 (Malcom McDowell), Orion Pictures

Let’s get this out of the way first. Before you can jump into Time After Time, you have to accept Nicholas Meyer’s curious (and entertaining) propensity for mixing real life and history with fiction. His novel and subsequent screenplay for The Seven-Per-Cent Solution permits us the conceit of imagining a world where Sigmund Freud co-exists with Sherlock Holmes. His follow-up, The West End Horror, also merges real people with fictitious characters as well. Once we get that out of the way, it’s easier to enjoy his clever directorial debut, Time After Time, based on an unpublished book by Karl Alexander. It isn’t enough for H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell resembling an owl) to be the celebrated author of The Time Machine, he must actually own such a device, which he proudly displays to colleagues and friends, among them a curious surgeon named John Leslie Stevenson (creepy David Warner).

In short order, Stevenson is revealed to be none other than Jack the Ripper when blood-soaked gloves are discovered in his medical bag, following a particularly vicious murder of a prostitute in Whitechapel. Stevenson, putting two and two together, uses Wells’ time machine to move forward into the future. The machine returns, minus one psychotic doctor, but he leaves a trail of breadcrumbs indicating where he went in time. Wells takes it upon himself to pursue Stevenson to the future, arriving in San Francisco in the year 1979. Wells considers himself a progressivist; a believer in “free love” but also eugenics. He thinks he will have no trouble adapting to what he assumes will be a new socialist utopia. He is horrified to discover quite the opposite, and interestingly, what terrifies him about this future, pleases Stevenson. When Wells confronts him, Stevenson informs him this future of violence and unrestrained sexuality is pretty much a shopping market for people like him.

Despite the rather bleak narrative, there are many moments of humor to be had in Time After Time. Wells must “barter with the natives,” so he hocks some antique jewelry. He goes to McDonald’s and is delighted to see that they serve (in addition to Big Macs and pommes frites) tea. He tracks Stevenson to a British bank where he exchanged currency with employee Amy Robbins (cute Mary Steenburgen). Amy, being a modern woman, flirts with and ultimately picks up Wells. She moves fast, and Wells is almost appalled at her advances and the gender-role switch, but he happily assents to her desires. Meanwhile, a rash of murders (similar in M.O. to Stevenson’s early Whitechapel work) are occurring in San Francisco, but are buried under the miasma of horrific violence in this future. Wells takes Amy three days into the future to convince her his time machine actually works. They discover, by way of a newspaper headline, she will be Stevenson’s next victim.

Time After Time is a fun, exciting movie–a time odyssey and a love story. McDowell and Steenburgen make for a surprisingly sexy, amiable couple. They would eventually marry, but then divorce after ten years. Meyer has an eye for unusual details. When Wells sells his jewelry, he notices the man examining the items has tattooed numbers on his arm, which he considers peculiar. While Wells would be considered a genius in 1893, he is uneducated and unprepared for what our future has in store. McDowell shows he can play against type. At the start of his film career, he specialized in portraying angry, disenfranchised young men. Warner would continue to play creepy characters. The next year, Steenburgen’s performance in the brilliant Melvin and Howard would win her the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Meyer would next direct Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and the chilling made-for-TV movie, The Day After. Meyer would serve as executive producer for the short-lived 2016 television series based on the movie.

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 Sword and the Sorceror, 1982”

“We’ve got kingdoms to save and women to love!”

The Sword and the Sorceror, 1982 (Lee Horsley), Group 1 International Distribution Organization Ltd.

A couple of boats settle on a rushing shore. A frustrated and somewhat evil Titus Cromwell (Richard Lynch) commands his witch to summon a crazy mud-man with glowing eyes, Xusia of Delos, (this can only be Night Court’s Richard Moll) to help him defeat his enemies. In another corner of the word, King Richard rules his empire with the dual benefits of peace and mercy. Honestly, I don’t know he does it! Cromwell’s armies begin ripping through Richard’s land. Cromwell goes back on his deal with the mud-man and chucks him off a cliff for his trouble. I think he’ll be back. Ten minutes in, and we’ve got a lot of story. Richard sends his family away, but his son, Talon, (with a bad haircut) wants to fight. Richard tells him he must carry on, fight on the seas and oceans, fight on the beaches, fight on the landing grounds, fight in the hills, never surrender, or something to that effect. The young man (with a nifty projectile-launching sword) is hunted for years by Cromwell. He grows into the stunning specimen of manhood known as Matt Houston! I mean Lee Horsley. Pirate, slave, rogue. You name it.

Meanwhile mud-boy Xusia is plotting his revenge on Cromwell. Don’t get it twisted. He is tight! There are stirrings of rebellion with Prince Mikah (Jaws 3-D’s Simon MacCorkindale), believed to be the rightful heir to King Richard’s lost empire, planning a revolt. All he needs is a few good men. The fully grown, fully coiffed manhood-oozing Talon is interested in only three things: money, food and women. God bless him! Cromwell gets the drop on Mikah due to his traitorous douche advisor. Mikah sends his sister Alana (Kathleen Beller) to warn the others, but she is waylaid by thugs who are then easily dispatched by Talon (all while eating a big cow leg no less). Alana hires Talon to rescue her brother. They haggle, but he seems more interested in sex, so she offers herself, but he expects his bounty, “perfumed and pretty.” Oh you man, you! Cromwell steals off with Alana, planning to make her his queen, regardless of whether she loves him or not. I’m glad relationships between men and women have evolved. Or have they? So now Talon has to rescue a prince and a princess.

This is a damned fun movie. It’s a story George R. R. Martin wished he had written; concise and economical like The Neverending Story and a pathetic reminder of why movies fail to entertain these days. It looks as though certain scenes and shots were lifted from this movie to make Game of Thrones, which (I don’t care how much money was spent) pales by comparison. Beautifully shot by Joseph Mangine working with director Albert Pyun for his first movie, The Sword and the Sorceror is funny, sexy, and energetic. No easy feat. Pyun’s early work indicates his love for shadows and color, and an eye for framing and detail. Horsley is charismatic, and Lynch is a great mustache-twirler. The story recalls Jason and the Argonauts, Bert I. Gordon’s The Magic Sword, a little bit of Star Wars, and Clash of the Titans. It is often compared to Conan the Barbarian, the movie that kicked off the new wave of fantasy movies for the ’80s, but I see very little resemblance. As a matter of fact, I think I prefer this movie over Conan. and unlike the similar movie, Krull, this one makes sense.

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 Neverending Story, 1984”

“We don’t even care whether or not we care.”

The Neverending Story, 1984 (Barret Oliver), Warner Bros.

It used to be that if you had a few bucks, you made a movie. You had a little more money in the coffers, you’d make something tantamount to extravagant. If you had a ton of money, you’d make an epic movie. “Epic” (in the old days) used to mean 3-plus hours; usually a historical narrative – a Gandhi, a Lawrence of Arabia, a Ben Hur. It was a special night to go out and see an epic movie. Nowadays (here come the old man pants!) every movie is a damned epic and for no good reason (and they’re not good at all). There’s no earthly reason the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit (not even counting the extended editions on home media) movies have to clock in at three hours a-piece. Wolfgang Petersen’s The Neverending Story is an epic fantasy adventure movie on Slimfast. It’s a lean, economical 96 minutes. It tells a great story and then quickly gets the hell off the screen so we can go home and process.

Admittedly, because we are separating literature from film, The Neverending Story relies on a conscious form of contrivance. A literal absence of matter and energy known in legend as the “Nothing” is devouring the Universe and is about to engulf the land of Fantasia. The leaders of Fantasia summon a young warrior by the name of Atreyu (Noah Hathaway) to rescue an ailing Empress (Tami Stronach) who will stop the “Nothing,” provided she is given a new name. The kicker to all of this is that the story is being read (from a book entitled The Neverending Story) by a boy named Bastian (Barret Oliver) in our present-day world. Bastian is a Spielberg-type child: smart, but lonely, from a broken home with a parent (Major Dad’s Gerald McRaney!) who doesn’t understand him and even scolds him for mourning his dead mother. Jeez.

The rubrics of the story require Bastian to be a bullied introvert so that he can exact revenge on his tormentors; in this case, three psychotic little pricks who drop him into a dumpster. I’ve never understood the bully logic. How do you build on the thrill of terrorizing children? How come wonderful stories of enchanted lands are never experienced by horrifying, spoiled little bastards? Perhaps they would learn not to be spoiled little bastards if confronted with furry luck dragons and ridiculous giant turtles. Speaking of contrivances and dragons, Atreyu, in a moment of danger, is saved by said luck dragon, Falkor (possibly my favorite character in the film). Astride the giant creature, Atreyu can reach his target before the “Nothing” devours the world, but (in a great bit) they require the help of Bastian, who they know is reading their story.

It’s like if you took all the best parts of a book, or a story, or a ballad, and put them into a movie knowing you only had a limited amount of time to get it done, to get the movie’s adaptation down, and the audience satisified. The best movies work on their own terms with cinematic language. The worst adaptations are slavishly faithful to the literary source material. This is the movie Peter Jackson wanted to make. The early ’80s were an awesome (even gnarly) time for fantasy films: Conan the Barbarian, Legend, Willow, Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, etc. It also harkens back to a time when movies were made with hands, not microchips. The creatures in the movie are astonishing to behold and it’s wonderful to see players interact with them on an actual physical level. Director Petersen’s next movie (a personal favorite) would be 1985’s Enemy Mine, starring Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett, Jr.

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.