Archive for August, 2015

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WE GOT IT ALL ON UHF

August 18, 2015

George Newman considers himself a man of vision. Actually, he’s a daydreamer who’s gotten himself fired from every job he’s had over the past month. He’s also gotten his friend and roommate fired as well. George’s girlfriend Teri feels that things would turn around for him, if he could just land a job and keep it without the daydreams getting in the way. Still and all, she loves him.

Little does George realize that his dreams are about to take him, his hometown, and we the viewers on a crazy, joke-a-minute adventure into the world of independent television. You see, George’s uncle just won ownership of U 62, the town’s lowest rated TV station. He decides to let George and Bob run it, after all, nobody’s watching, what could possibly go right?

U62’s staff consists of Pamela Finklestein, secretary, and would-be anchorwoman, Noodles, her diminutive cameraman, and Philo, the spacy technician.¬† George does his best with what he has, hosting the station’s only two original shows: UNCLE NUTSY’S CLUB HOUSE, which puts its young studio audience to sleep, and TOWN TALK, whose first guest, an eighth grade shop teacher shows us how NOT to use a saw.

George’s problems are compounded when he misses Teri’s birthday dinner while going over the accounts, and realizing that the station will fold within a week.

A misdirected envelope meant for the town’s network affiliate soon proves to change George’s luck. At the affiliate, he has his first encounter with R.J Fletcher, who would love nothing better than to see U 62 go off the air, so his station can dominate. He also meets Stanley Spadowski, a hyper, but loveable janitor who was just wrongfully fired by RJ. Stanley starts out as George’s janitor, but after the missed birthday with Teri, his Uncle Nutsy breaks down on the air. Stanley takes over, and becomes U62’s breakout star. The money starts coming in, as do new ideas for original shows, including WHEEL OF FISH, RAUL’S WILD KINGDOM (promise me that, if you have a poodle, you’re not trying to teach him/her how to fly) BOWLING FOR BURGERS, PRACTICAL JOKES, STRIP SOLITAIRE, and a new more Jerry Springer-like TOWN TALK.

Happy ending right? Wrong! George’s uncle soon finds himself owing his bookie $75,000, and makes a shady deal with Fletcher to get U 62 off the air. George, Stanley, and the rest of the U 62 gang have just a couple of days to cover the debt and save the station. Can George raise the funds? Can RJ stop raising his voice? Can YOU raise the window blinds? For the answer to these and other questions….ooops, wrong show, sorry. I was getting silly.

But then again, that’s the whole POINT of UHF. It’s supposed to be silly and goofy, and off-the-wall. This isn’t Shakespeare we’re talking about, it’s Weird Al Yankovic. Who better to poke fun at the tropes of TV, than someone who pokes fun at all sorts of popular culture in his songs. I remember how cruel the critics were to this now classic comedy gem. They tore everything apart, including Al’s mustache. Excuse me, but that’s going too far. And Al knows when to play George seriously. He loves Teri, he cares about the station and the people who work with him. So much so, that when Fletcher’s men kidnap Stanley, George goes to rescue him, and finds courage he didn’t know he had.

UHF was never meant to be more than what it is, 90 minutes of escapist fun. Perfect after a tough day at work, a good killer of the blues, a movie to watch with your friends when you get together. I’d even go so far to say you can watch it with your kids if they’re getting into their teenage years. According to the trivia facts at imdb.com, Al thought that PG-13 was too strong a rating for UHF. He wanted the whole family to enjoy it, but some of the jokes and references just wouldn’t pass muster with the censors, and to cut them would have meant ruining the movie completely for Al.

As for the title song? For me it’s one of Al’s best original songs. See for yourself¬† UHF-Weird Al

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ATTACK PLUS 30 YEARS: REMEMBERING “THREADS”

August 6, 2015

It was May 1985. My ninth grade Ancient History class was winding down for the year. As a way to bring us full circle from where we’ve been to where we might be headed, our teacher decided to explore nuclear warfare. He started with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, lecturing us and showing us pictures of the victims.¬† But little did we know what he had in store. He told us that, with our parents’ permission, we would be watching a movie called THREADS. I had never heard of THREADS, and one of my classmates asked if it was as scary as THE DAY AFTER. Without hesitation, he told my classmate it was actually worse.

how right he was. About a week later, in a mini classroom across from the library, we all watched THREADS. None of us had seen anything like it, and I doubt any of us will ever forget what we saw…no matter how hard we try.

Some of you come to my blog to read up on COUNTDOWN TO LOOKING GLASS, so you may already be familiar with THREADS. Bear with me while I fill in my readers who are unfamiliar with this movie. Be warned. You may be glad that ignorance is sometimes bliss.

It’s May 1983. Jimmy Kemp and Ruth Beckett are a very young couple in love, and in a predicament. In a moment of passion, Ruth gets pregnant with Jimmy’s baby. Jimmy decides he and Ruth will marry and raise the baby, much to the concern of Jimmy and Ruth’s parents. Meanwhile, the US has sent troops into Iran to overthrow the government. The Russians decide they can not allow this, and send tanks and troops in from the North, with the idea that they will invade in a southern direction towards the oil fields. Needless to say, things get very bad quickly. The head of the Town Council soon finds himself assembling a Crisis Team that has no idea what their jobs are or how to do them. The British Government felt at the time, this was the best way to keep the country running during a nuclear crisis.

As we watch the team assemble, and follow Ruth and Jimmy’s stories, we also see the country preparing for the worst: cots and blankets stocked up at schools, fire trucks deployed to key locations, gas stations being closed for everyone except military vehicles and other first responders. And the grand-daddy of them all: PROTECT AND SURVIVE, an actual Public Service Film about preparing for nuclear attack is being broadcast over the BBC networks and radio stations 24 hours a day. You can see PROTECT AND SURVIVE on YouTube. It’s as stark as THREADS in spite of its look.

All of this made for great dramatic tension in the first part of THREADS. Then it happens, and by “it” I mean all out nuclear war. Barry Hines, the writer and Mick Jackson, the director do not spare you any of this horror. You see it all. From burning bodies to bottles melting to shockwaves from the blast. It is hell on earth. Literally.

The attack scene alone was enough to give me nightmares on a regular basis for a good year after. But the attack is just the beginning of the horrors. Over the course of 10 years, we are bearing witness to the debilitating effects of radiation poisoning, we see infestations of every kind, we see a new totalitarian police force form to keep order. We see the decline of sanitary living, as well as the decline of language. We see nuclear winter, and what happens when the sky clears. Nothing is held back.

Like I said, this movie gave me nightmares after I saw it. It was a long time until I could watch it again. By then I was about 30, and found an NTSC videotape at Blockbuster. You would think it would be easier now that I was a full grown adult, but no. It still ripped my heart and my guts out. What was worse, I made the mistake of watching it at night. I stared at the ceiling in my bedroom begging the Almighty to get the images out of my head so I could sleep. If you’re going to brave this movie on YouTube, where it can be seen in its entirety, I recommend doing it during the day, then watch some viral videos of animals doing cute and funny things. It won’t erase what you just saw, but it will take the edge off.

Please do not mistake my feelings for THREADS as negative. Quite the contrary. In my opinion, humble as it is, I think it’s one of the most important movies I’ve ever seen. It’s as relevant now as it was 30 years ago, but it’s still just as shattering to watch. Some people I knew and know thought I was exaggerating what I saw. But I have yet to see any of these same people actually sit down and try to watch it. I have the feeling that if they did, they would come back to me and tell me I was right about THREADS. But I wouldn’t be happy that I was.

So, I do encourage you to see THREADS if you haven’t before. But brace yourself. This is not a happy movie, in fact, without exaggerating, this may be one of the scariest movies you may ever see.