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5, 4, 3, 2 … OOPS!

A couple of weeks ago, the final space shuttle mission launched, and by the end of this week, it will have landed, ending a 30-year era of space exploration for the United States.  It goes without saying that this is the end of an era.  The first space shuttle launched when I was 3-1/2 years old, and I (unfortunately) rank the Challenger Disaster as one of the most important moments of my childhood.

I wanted to post something about what I thought about the space shuttle saying farewell; however, I don’t know if I would have anything to say that hasn’t been said already, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to keep whatever I wrote within the confines of my “pop culture” subject matter.  I thought of the Young Astronauts Challenger Commemorative Packet that I got when I was in the fourth grade and I also thought of writing about the time I put together one of those Revell space shuttle kits and got glue all over my hands, paint all over the place, and never got the decals to go on correctly (seriously, did anyone?).  But then I thought of what nobody is probably talking about as far as the space shuttle is concerned, which is the biggest (and well … kind of only) space shuttle movie there is:  SpaceCamp.

Starring Kate Capshaw, Lea Thompson, Kelly Preston, Joaquin Phoenix (back when he was known as “Leaf”), Tate Donovan, and Larry B. Scott (a.k.a. Lamar from Revenge of the Nerds), SpaceCamp is one of the few science-fiction  (although in a way, this is more “science” based) movies from the late 1970s and 1980s where aliens do not attack and lay waste to the Earth, nor do they mate with, possess, or disembowel anyone.  In fact, SpaceCamp doesn’t have any aliens.  Unfortunately, its tension is tepid enough for a teacher to show an elementary school class.

Capshaw (about a year or two removed from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) plays Andie Bergstrom, an astronaut who, when she sits on her family’s farm in 1961, sees John Glenn’s capsule fly through space and says proudly to her dog, “I’m goin’ up!” (a line delivered in the cheesiest manner possible, btw).  More than two decades later, she has received the umpteenth notification that she will not fly on a shuttle mission–Atlantis, which is scheduled to launch within a couple of weeks.  Her husband, Zach (Tom Skerritt, who would be Viper in Top Gun the same summer), then coaxes her into being an instructor at Space Camp, which for plot reasons is held at Cape Canaveral and not in Huntsville, Alabama (a Space Camp was opened in Florida in 1989, but this came out in 1986).  She reluctantly takes on the “blue team” of Space Camp students, who are …

… a group of stock characters.  Kevin (Donovan) is the arrogant screw-up guy and we know that because when we meet him, he’s wearing a Hawaiian shirt and rocking out in his new Jeep; Kathryn (Thompson) is an overachiever who is already a pilot, and we know this because she flies a WWI-era bi-plane to the parking lot; Tish (Preston) is a mall ditz who possesses the ability to memorize just about anything she reads, and we know this because she cinches her flight suit with a stylish red belt; Max (Phoenix) is the annoying kid genius who everyone will pick on, and we know this because everyone picks on him; and Rudy (Scott) is … well, the only one without any issues. (more…)

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There are no rules, bra

So last year, on my wife’s birthday, I did a rundown of everything that is awesome about the 1989 Robyn Lively classic Teen Witch.  I thought I’d do something similar.  Now, there wasn’t a Teen Witch 2 or a Teen Witch Too, which is kind of a shame because if they could make a sequel to shit like Zapped!, they could surely make a sequel to Teen Witch.  I mean, it’s not like the cast members of the first movie all went on to superstardom.

Instead, I felt like taking a look at a movie that I know that she doesn’t necessarily love but has probably seen as many times as some people have seen Star Wars, which is the 1993 rollerblading movie, Airborne.

Yes, in 1993 someone decided to make a teen/sports movie whose focus was rollerblading.

Now, in my wife’s defense I am sure she’s only sat through this entire movie a couple of times and it’s not her Star Wars by any means.  However, I think that we both have lost count of the number of times that we’ve been flipping channels only to come across this movie, usually on one of the high-numbered random-assed movie channels that we get as part of our basic cable plan (like “FLIX”) or one of the assorted Disney-owned channels like ABC Family.  You’d think that an 18-year-old movie about a niche sport that never really caught on would spend time wallowing in obscurity only to be occasionally retrieved from the bowels of Netflix instant streaming or one of the few remaining video stores throughout the land.

However, as we all know, there really aren’t any video stores left in the land (and certainly not many that have a VHS inventory or would have bought Airborne on DVD).  Plus, this is not available on Netflix at all.  And I’d like to say “Thankfully, it’s on cable all the time so I got the chance to tape and watch it,” but I can’t even do that because when I sat down to prep for this entry I couldn’t find it anywhere in my television listings.  So I had to watch this movie “illegally” in a sense: in ten-minute increments on YouTube.  No, really.  I mean, I could have rented it from YouTube for $2.99 but it’s not worth that price (plus, isn’t that why I have a Netflix subscription) but someone took the time and the effort to break the movie into segments and post them in “parts” up on YouTube.  It’s a little tedious and a couple of the parts are missing a few minutes but overall worth not having to pay for it.

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An Amazin’ Era

The cover to An Amazin’ Era. The images were also used on the promo poster and the tape was also available in Betamax. Yes, Betamax.

When I decided to recount my memories of the Mets’ 1986 season, I thought that I would spend some time on various games I had either watched on television or attended and my experience of being a fan 25 years ago when the team won its last World Series.  It seemed to be going all right, or at least I had some memory of the first home game of the season.  But as I began to leaf through my ’86 Mets stuff, I began to realize that I actually don’t have a lot of memories of that year.

It’s not that I wasn’t a fan or didn’t watch the team on television.  It’s just that I was nine years old and when I wasn’t spending my days playing with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe toys, I was watching maybe one or two cartoons each night before going to bed at 8:00.  I got to stay up later on Friday nights, but that was probably until about 9:00 or 9:30, which meant that if Channel 9 was showing a Mets game, I’d only get a few innings in before I was sent off to bed.  There were quite a few nights when I was rushed off to bed in the middle of the fourth with runners on base and Ed Lynch or Dough Sisk trying to get out of yet another jam (Doug Sisk, btw, was one of those pitchers you tried to imitate because he had this crazy overhand delivery … it was the polar opposite of Dan Quisenberry, and every time you tried to “Sisk” a pitch in baseball or wiffle ball, the ball landed a mile behind the catcher). Sure, there were Sunday games, but only if my mother wasn’t making me go outside and do something.

I did, however, have my fair share of Mets merchandise by this point, including a video that would prove as important as the 1985 pennant race in cementing my love for the team.  An Amazin’ Era is a one-hour documentary created to commemorate 25 seasons of Mets baseball, telling the story of the team from its very humble beginnings in 1962 to the anticipated title run in 1986 (it took me a while to figure that out, by the way, because the 25th Anniversary logo said 1962-1986 and if you do the math, that’s 24 seasons but considering that there is no “season zero” that’s actually correct).  It was released in early 1986 and I am pretty sure that I got it for my ninth birthday from either my parents or my Uncle Lou along with Donald Honig’s 25th Anniversary book and the Amazin’ Era poster that had been hanging in the video store and my dad had purchased and had mounted and framed (this poster, btw, would hang on the wall of my bedroom all the way up until the time I left home when I was 22 … it may be in my parents’ attic or basement, I’m not sure). (more…)

Dance ’til Dawn

When I was a teenager, I spent a little too much time thinking about what my senior prom would be like.  I wouldn’t call it an obsession, but I thought about the big end-of-high-school dance enough to keep my thoughts to myself as if they were some sort of dirty little secret.  If I wasn’t writing about it, that is.  Track down a copy of Collage, the Sayville High School literary magazine from 1995 and you’ll see a story called “Scenes from a High School Prom,” which is some sort of boy-finally-gets-the-girl story that only a lovesick teenager would write, or maybe even dream about (literally, in fact, because it’s based on a dream I once had).   I even incorporated prom (specifically, that story) into a novel I wrote nearly a decade ago; although by then the message wasn’t so much about the fairytale of the perfect prom night but what happens the morning after and the baggage that comes with it.

In real life, I never had baggage concerning my senior prom experience.  In fact, I had a great time mostly due to the fact that I went with someone very cool and avoided most of the bullshit drama that my particular group of friends was involved with at the time (at least for one night — certain friends of mine, if they’re reading this, know that there was drama that I definitely got sucked into during and after our senior year of high school).  So I was never disappointed in my prom night, mainly because I was surprisingly well-adjusted coming out of high school (though I am the first to admit that I was both high-strung and immature … but enough about my issues).  Still, I would be lying if I didn’t say that the prom fantasy definitely factored into my perception of what my prom would be like.

That fantasy, btw?  The one featured in that short story I wrote in senior year creative writing?  Well, boy takes friend on whom he has a crush to prom and at the last chance to finally do it, he tells her he loves her and she says she loves him and they kiss and everyone lives happily ever after.  And where did I get the idea that this is what was going to happen at my prom because this is what happened at every prom?  Usually I would have some long explanation regarding my unpopularity in high school coupled with my testimony of junior high dances being special, magical places; however, all I have to do is say three words:

Dance ’til Dawn.

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Scary Evening

There are some kids who aren’t scared of anything and there are some kids who are scared of everything.  I spent most of my childhood in the latter camp, doing my best to avoid any situation that was a little scary, whether it be climbing aboard a roller coaster or climbing the ropes in gym class.  Scary movies definitely fell into this category.  I think that by the time I was ten years old, the scariest movie I had watched might have been a WPIX airing of Carrie (which really wasn’t scary) or an old Hammer Studios flick like Dracula: Prince of Darkness.  In other words, despite my fascination with the video boxes for horror movies, I really wasn’t up for renting one.

I can’t tell if spending my early years being relatively sheltered from the sights and sounds of scary movies had a positive or negative effect on my life.  I mean, the negative is that I was a complete pussy when it came to watching even Alien for the first time, and one scary scene could give me a really bad nightmare to the point where I insisted that my closet door be closed each night before I went to bed.  Then again, the fact that I remembered that one scary scene so well has made me really appreciate what goes into a quality horror movie.  In other words, I’m not one to sit back and simply let The Exorcist or The Blair Witch Project simply happen.  If I’m watching one of those films, I’m involved.

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Horror in a Box (Portions NSFW)

The poster for 1981’s “The Howling,” which was one video box I could never stop staring at when I was a kid.

I am not a horror movie guy.  Sure, I’ll sit down and watch stuff like Halloween or Night of the Living Dead on occasion, but I am not the type to line up outside of a movie theater on the opening night of the latest Saw movie because I am promised that there are going to be 50% more genital mutilations.  However, I’ve always been fascinated by horror films, especially those which are outside of the mainstream.

This fascination began at an early age, when Sayville’s Video Empire opened in 1984.  This wasn’t the first video store that my parents frequented–that distinction belongs to Video Village, which was located in a very small house-like building next to what was Chicken Delight but is now Hot Bagels on Montauk Highway in Sayville; and Video Zone, which was across from the Oakdale train station–and those video stores were pretty cramped establishements with very little to offer me except for repeated rentals of Superman: The Movie and video collections of Mickey Mouse cartoons which, if you waited long enough after the cartoons were over, featured a long and terrible trailer for Disney’s long and terrible sci-fi movie, The Black Hole.

Video Empire, as I’ve mentioned before, quickly became my home video store after it opened because it was on the same side of Main Street/Montauk Highway as my parents’ house was, so that meant I didn’t have to worry about crossing it to get there on my bike; and it was pretty huge for a video store.  Now, it was nowhere near the size of a Blockbuster Video but for a mom and pop operation, it was pretty large.  The children’s section of the store was right as you came in, to the right, and if you kept walking toward the counter you found that the kiddie videos transitioned into the sci-fi/horror videos.  By this time in my life I had seen Star Wars a ton of times, so I would peruse the shelves hoping to find The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi, both of which had just come out on video back in the mid-1980s and were highly sought after by Video Empire’s customers.

While perusing, my eyes would eventually land on the box for one of the many horror movies available.  These included your obvious classics, such as the Friday the 13th series (which at that point was up to Part IV, or The Final Chapter), the Halloween series (at the awful Season of the Witch), or something random like Psycho or Alien.  But they also included movies that probably didn’t make a lot of money at the box office and whose studios had decided to recoup whatever losses they had by making them readily available for the bourgeoning video rental market.  If there’s nothing else out, they have to rent something, right?  I mean, it’s a decent rationale.  Eventually, while my dad tried to figure out what new release action flick to rent and my sister looked for The Last Unicorn or some shit, I would pick up one of those boxes and turn them over, reading the description.

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Death from Spaaaaaace!

I am sure that everyone has a movie that he’s meant to see but never gotten around to.  Moreover, I’m sure that there are plenty of people out there who are weirdly obsessed with the possibility that they may watch a certain movie, yet never seem to get around to watching.  Or, as my father often says, they’ve seen “bits and pieces” of certain films.

For years, whenever I would walk into Sayville’s Video Empire with my dad, the first place I would check out would be the science fiction/horror section.  The reason for this was twofold: Star Wars movies fell under this classification and they were located along the right-hand wall next to the new releases.  On the shelves were always random movies that to this day I’m sure nobody ever rented (ah, the early days of video stores where inventory meant whatever was actually available at the time) as well as the popular flicks.  One of those was the 1984 movie Night of the Comet.

A film about teenagers having to make it in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, Night of the Comet didn’t do much at the box office and I would never had heard of it if I hadn’t been watching At the Movies with Siskel & Ebert on a regular basis and saw their review, which was pretty good for a movie that was nearly a B movie and didn’t do that well at the box office. 

But the concept intrigued me: everyone in the world has been wiped out, a few teenagers seem to have survived, and all is not as it seems.  Plus, the poster (and the subsequent video box) was really cool looking.  How could you go wrong with this?

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