UHF [1989)

Here’s a masterpiece of a movie.

I didn’t think so the first time I watched it.

I was a little preoccupied.

But this time I had a reason to be more emotionally invested.

Mops!

That’s right, mops.

Mops play a big role in this movie.

Spatulas also make a sort of cameo.

But mops predominate.

In particular, there is a special mop which is almost like a character in this film.

It doesn’t talk.

It doesn’t have a name.

But it is more than a MacGuffin.

Stanley Spadowski (the true star of this movie) received the mop in question for his 8th birthday.

And, apparently, he used that mop well into adulthood.

He decorated it with various bits of colored electrical tape.

And it was with this mop that he dutifully fulfilled his role as janitor at a major local TV news station:  Channel 8.

But one day, Spadowski (played brilliantly by Michael Richards) found himself to be, in the tradition of Hitchcock, “the wrong man”.

Spadowski did nothing wrong.

He was not careless.

Even though he didn’t possess a notable intellect per se, he gave his all to his janitorial profession.

…and he actually enjoyed it.

Mopping.

Scrubbing.

Stanley Spadowski took pride in his work at Channel 8.

But, as “the wrong man”, he suddenly found himself blamed and scapegoated.

Though his unscrupulous employer made no effort to prove Spadowski’s guilt, Spadowski could not PROVE his innocence.

It was a quick exchange…

Q:  Did you do this?

A:  No.

Q:  I don’t believe you.  You’re fired.

Something like that.

Very capricious.

And, thus, Spadowski was crushed.

But the most crushing blow for Stanley was when the station owner’s son (also an employee [l’il bit ‘o nepotism]) confiscated Stanley’s mop as “station property”.

It was not.

But Stanley was helpless.

Thunderstruck.

Aghast.

Stanley had no one to stand up for him.

Yet, though he didn’t get what the wanted (to retain his job at Channel 8), he got what he needed:  a new job as janitor of the UHF station 62.

And all of this because one man observed the pitiable scene of Stanley being deprived of his tool of the trade (which he had used since childhood).

That man was “Weird Al” Yankovic.

As in the movie (where “Weird Al” is the station manager of “U62”), Yankovic was also the brains behind this movie itself.

He wrote it.

With someone named Jay Levey.

Mr. Levey directed this “cult classic”.

If it tells you anything, Levey still does not have a Wikipedia page in English…41 years after this movie came out.

So I am going to assume that Levey did not go on to bigger and brighter things in the film industry.

That being said, it appears this film actually realized a 20% profit (box office – budget = x [x/budget = profit as a %]).

But let’s get back into Stanley Spadowski (a character “Weird Al” or Levey must have invented).

I’d bet money that Yankovic came up with this character.

But this character could not have come to life without the talents of Michael Richards.

No one, and I mean NO ONE, could have pulled it off.

Michael Richards is a very underrated actor.

If you look on iTunes, you are apt to see a mere two films in which Richards plays anything approximating a significant role.

One is this:  UHF.

The other is another sort of “diamond in the rough”:  Transylvania 6-5000.

The latter would be a mostly-unwatchable, tedious comedy were it not for Richards’ breakout performance.

Richards distinguished himself as Fejos in that film four years prior to UHF.

Indeed, just a fortnight before UHF was released in 1989, Seinfeld premiered as The Seinfeld Chronicles.

Richards played the role of Kessler.

As The Seinfeld Chronicles became Seinfeld, Kessler became Kramer.

The world, in general, knows Michael Richards as [Cosmo] Kramer.

The show ran for nine years.

But let’s adjust our tack a bit here.

Who is Stanley Spadowski?

I would argue that he is the “cousin” (so to speak) of Carl Spackler:  the groundskeeper in 1980’s Caddyshack.

Where Spackler is laconic, Spadowski is prone to frenzy.

And yet, these two characters are cut from a similar cloth.

Spackler (Bill Murray) always has his impermeable camouflage bucket hat.

And usually a dirt-and-sweat-stained T-shirt.

Baggy cargo shorts.

And combat boots.

Appearing in 1980, Carl Spackler would have probably been seen as a nutty Vietnam vet.

Indeed, Spackler is tasked by his boss (the HEAD groundskeeper) to take care of the golf course’s gopher problem.

In hilarious fashion, Spackler goes after the gophers…even employing plastic explosives.

Spadowski is also a T-shirt guy.

With suspenders.

Always suspenders.

And whether they are real or fake (I think fake), Spadowski has noticeable (and endearing) bucked teeth.

He can hardly keep them in his mouth.

He is awkward.

He usually speaks slowly.

But when he gets excited, he is like a fire hydrant that’s just been opened.

What’s important about Spadowski and Spackler is that they are everymen.

They are most certainly underdogs.

And UHF, at its heart, is an underdog story.

U62, the channel, is an underdog.

It is not a network affiliate.

UHF (as opposed to VHF) was the television equivalent of AM radio (as opposed to FM).

Local stations.

Questionable programming.

Shoestring budgets.

You could find ANYTHING on UHF television or AM radio.

Anything was possible.

There was less control.

Today, in my town, my favorite radio station is run by a Methodist church.

Their format (vaguely) is “oldies”.

But their programming swings a bit wildly…and usually I love them for it.

They play songs I’ve never heard.

Occasionally a similar station will pop up in the same range of the dial using this “none of the hits–all of the time” approach (only to disappear back into the ocean of static which separates one clear-signal island from another).

U61 is this sort of beast.

Which makes sense.

Because it is run by a dreamer:  George Newman (“Weird Al”).

George starts off this film flipping burgers.

This may be a reference to the 1982 film Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

“Weird Al” gets fired.

The tone of the scene is very similar to Fast Times…

Which brings up an important point.

UHF is a pastiche.

It is stream-of-consciousness.

The narrative shifts wildly with non sequitur episodes interpolated here and there.

UHF makes continuous reference to the pop culture of its day:  the 1980s.

And this makes sense because the creator of this film was “Weird Al”:  best known as a musician specializing in parodies (usually of contemporary hits).

I hate to get all artsy-fartsy here, but I would dare say there is a modicum of post-modernism in “Weird Al”‘s filmic approach.

And, perhaps more importantly, a noticeable measure of Thelonious Monk (autism?) in Stanley Spadowski.

Idiot-savant.

And so UHF is a work of art which captures awkwardness in some of the same ways that Napoleon Dynamite and Poto and Cabengo do (respectively).

The message is:  be yourself.

You have value.

There is a person out there for you.

There is a job that is right for you.

There are no guarantees.

But you won’t be happy anyway if you’re not being yourself.

 

-PD

Transylvania 6-5000 [1985)

5’40”

“Loretta Lynch:

–indicted

—3 counts, conspiracy to overthrow the government

–2 counts of obstruction of justice

—3 counts of lying to Congress

Sally Yates:

—3 counts, conspiracy to overthrow the government

—3 counts, obstruction of justice

John Brennan:

—3 counts, conspiracy to overthrow the government

—3 counts of lying to Congress

–2 counts of lying to investigators

-1 count of conspiracy to commit treason

—3 counts of obstruction of justice

James Clapper:

—3 counts, conspiracy to overthrow the government

–2 counts of lying to Congress

Four CIA operatives:

–indicted

–no charges listed

[…]

James Comey:

—3 counts, conspiracy to overthrow the government

——6 counts of perjury

—-4 counts of obstruction of justice

—-4 counts of falsifying government documents

Andrew McCabe:

—3 counts, conspiracy to overthrow the government

–2 counts of perjury

—3 counts of lying to Congress

-1 count of falsifying documents

Bruce Ohr:

—3 counts conspiracy […]

-1 count of falsifying documents

Baker:

–indictment

–charges unknown

Strzok:

—3 counts, conspiracy to overthrow the government

—-4 counts of perjury

—3 counts of falsifying documents

[…]

Page:

—3 counts, conspiracy to overthrow the government

—3 counts of perjury

-1 count of obstruction of justice

Rod Rosenstein:

—–5 various charges

–exact unknown at this time

Susan Rice:

–illegal use of government systems

—3 counts of perjury

-1 count of obstruction”

Let’s recap, shall we?

First, lets group those who (if the information in the link I provided above [and here ] is correct) are rumored to have been indicted for CONSPIRACY TO OVERTHROW THE GOVERNMENT of the United States of America:

–Loretta Lynch [former Attorney General of the U.S., 2015-2017]

–Sally Yates [former Deputy Attorney General of the U.S., 2015-2017]

–John Brennan [former Director of the CIA, 2013-2017]

–James Clapper [former Director of National Intelligence, 2010-2017]

–James Comey [former Director of the FBI, 2013-2017]

–Andrew McCabe [former Deputy Director of the FBI, 2016-2018]

–Peter Strzok [former Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI (Counterintelligence Division)]

–Lisa Page [former FBI attorney]

Could this list, ostensibly leaked to a radio show run by “James R” (who goes by realpersonpltcs [sic] on Twitter) by an anonymous U.S. Department of Justice source, be true?

It sounds like the stuff of tabloid journalism, doesn’t it?

Except for one thing:

it’s completely plausible.

Tabloids are curious.

And that’s where this hidden gem of a movie comes in.

Because, after all, this is a film review.

What if tabloid journalists (who usually cover sensational, “engineered” stories) ACCIDENTALLY came across the real thing?

In other words, what if they actually found a real-life Bat Boy?

It bears mentioning at this point that Avril Haines, one of the “players” in Bill Gates’ amazingly-prescient bat coronavirus simulation Event 201 which was held in NYC on 10/18/19, worked for one of the aforementioned conspirators listed above:  John Brennan.

Screen Shot 2020-04-27 at 5.59.58 AM

 

Jeffrey Jones [Ferris Bueller] plays the corrupt mayor.

Laughing with incredulity.

Michael Richards is absolutely genius here.

And the head of the local police is in on the corrupt conspiracy with the mayor.

Geena Davis looks stunning!

Joseph Bologna plays the mad scientist.

He laments that his father’s reputation was maligned for injecting viruses into animals in his lifelong quest to cure the common cold.

Human experiments.

A “monster” fleeing from a laboratory.

There is even a delineation of evil (in the sense of “demonic possession”) which mirrors the tone of David Lynch’s television masterpiece Twin Peaks.

The evil is in a place.

Enter that place and you may become possessed.

This happens to Bologna’s character in textbook “Jekyll and Hyde” fashion.

The missing child is a trope from Frankenstein.

Those who are trying to tell the truth are arrested.

Because the truth, if told, would reveal the criminality of this particular police force.

So what, I ask you, will happen when Frankenstein enters the American psyche from stage left?

What will the shock be like?

How will CNN and MSNBC (and ABC, CBS, NBC, New York Times, Washington Post…) attempt to spin it?

Jeff Goldblum is excellent here.

Ed Begley, Jr. does a great job.

Carol Kane is as hilarious and adorable as she was on Taxi.

And Rudy De Luca, against all odds, created a minor masterpiece with this film.

There are two lit lamps in the window of the Old North Church.

 

-PD

Good Morning, Vietnam [1987)

Things are sad here.

This is a war.

Pieczenik has outlined it as both biological warfare and psychological warfare.

Morale.

How to keep morale high?

Maybe you love someone.

Or maybe you’re just attracted to them.

But as you see them leave in a hurry, you wonder whether it might be the last time.

Are we winning?

Are we gonna make it back home?

Everything is shot to shit.

Destroyed.

The DJ is lonely.

Daft.

But quite possibly a genius.

And so you can see how Robin Williams might have committed suicide.

The Great Pretender.

Tears of a Clown.

Death of a Clown.

Drugs have taken hold.

Not the gentle breasts of the opium den, but the annihilation of heroin.

Even the General smokes.

Because you don’t know how many days you have left.

One minute you’re fine.

The next you get blown up by the Vietcong.

Or the virus gets in your lungs.

In times of great distress (to paraphrase), comedians are needed.

“We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams.”

Willy Wonka said that.

As he grabbed Veruca Salt’s impudent mouth.

Cash is getting low.

Grapes of Wrath.

But we hang on.

With our radios.

And our MacBooks.

To have a zany DJ.

A “maniac”!

Yes.

On a boring street.

In a tense environment.

Theater of war.

Conflict.

Bittersweet.

Perhaps with more knowledge comes more sadness.

But the heart needs to heal.

The psychic energy has been vomited up.

The emetic was psychological.

Autobiographical.

And now I feel wasted.

Limp.

Fatigued.

But hopeful.

I will press on.

I am 43 years old.

There are good things about me.

I recognize what society sees as my shortcomings.

But I am on ice.

And yet it is temporary.

I was never cut out for the military.

And neither was Adrian Cronauer.

But there are many subgroups in the military.

Many ingenious ways by which to put creative individuals to work.

If the totality of war is fully understood.

Outcast.

Freak.

Break the rules.

Skirt the rules.

Play.

Emphasis on play.

Whimsy.

Quixotic.

Cronauer is a bit like Alex Jones.

Which makes sense.

When one sees the admiration Steve Pieczenik has for Alex Jones.

Not just anyone can get in front of a mic and do that.

We get a bit of Stripes here (rehashed).

Do the right thing.

Make true friends.

Long-lasting connections.

Be a good person.

Watch how your life achieves harmony.

Censorship.

Gimme Some Truth.

The pointless pursuit of the unattainable.

Sadness in human history.

In a foreign land.

Where no shops are open.

Where there are no places to congregate.

Our job is important.

We fall into a niche which is not easily defined.

The creators.

Of content.

And happiness.

The most electric scenes here directed by Barry Levinson are those of Robin Williams at work.

Spinning records.

Dancing.

You can feel the energy.

He plays off the reactions of his crew.

And the camera captures the frenzy with a shaking electricity.

Back in the real world, we must decide whether to go on being DJs and clowns.

Many dead ends.

And a broken heart.

A heavy heart.

But God says, “I got you, dawg.”

And we take this as gospel truth.

 

-PD

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation [1989)

It’s been awhile since I’ve written.

Got dumped by my fiancée.

Offered to be engaged again.

Got rejected again.

Worked my ass off at Starbucks.

Had one day off (Christmas).

And another today (New Year’s Eve).

Haven’t been feeling too well.

Failed experiments with getting off of anti-anxiety medication.

It’s tough.

People coming in the drive-thru in the wrong direction.

Getting stuck.

Taking twenty minutes to back out like Austin Powers in that infamous utility truck scene.

Work is stressful.

Christmas is stressful.

It puts a strain on many people.

Some go home and drink themselves to sleep.

While capitalism creates the most value, it is not without a price for the worker.

Getting a nice, cushy job can be easier than it sounds.

Perhaps I am dumb.

I’m not lazy, but I might be dumb.

I am smart in certain things.

But finding a place where my talents fit?

Well, I have done that a few times in my life.

But those were rare occasions.

It may be trite to say so, but life can come down to a roll of the dice here and there.

Is it chaos?

Is it God?

Did God invent chaos?

It’s true.

Some things which were formerly unexplained have become clearer as man has gained more knowledge of his world through science.

And here we come into the year 2020.

Where’s I’m at, there is a little less than two hours left.

I am glad to have my parents with me.

My dear, sweet mom.

My dear, sweet dad.

I am glad to have a roof over my head.

I’m glad to have heat.

Warmth.

Love.

And it is a joy to revisit this modern classic.

This was a film that my extended family (and my nuclear family) loved.

It is truly a city/country dichotomy.

From the very start.

Rednecks tailgate Clark Griswold as the family goes to the boonies in search of a Christmas tree.

But John Hughes does not paint a strictly disparaging portrait of rural folk.

Far from it.

For me, Randy Quaid is far-and-away the star of this film.

It is his best role.

Cousin Eddie.

It makes sense.

Quaid is from Houston.

And he has become quite a colorful character in real life on Twitter these recent years.

Scanning his bio, one can see that he attempted to migrate to Canada…with stops in Vancouver and Montreal.

But all that is secondary.

Quaid’s performance here is legendary.

And so he represents the country/rural pole.

But John Hughes, the film’s writer, did this lovingly.

Quaid is a lovable character here.

Not without faults.

Very three-dimensional.

This is where ’80s comedy approaches Dostoyevsky (in some weird sort of way).

At the other city/urban pole are the Griswold’s yuppie neighbors (notably including Julia Louis-Dreyfus).

Hughes takes as least as many pokes at the urban affluent as he does at the rural poor.

And there is nothing loving in his portrayal of the neighbors Todd and Margo.

But all of this is still secondary.

Because this film reminds me of my youth.

Times when things were a little more normal.

A big roaring fireplace out in the country.

And times when my dear cousin was still alive.

In rural areas, there is not much to do but watch movies.

And these were the days of VHS.

And video rental stores.

And so this film comes highly recommended by me.

It may not be one to watch year-round, but for my money it is more important and essential to my being than It’s a Wonderful Life.

One last thing.

Happy New Year to all!

May we not chain-smoke ourselves into early graves.

May we find peace and happiness and be able to handle the stresses of work and life.

I wish this for everyone.

 

-PD

Uncle Buck [1989)

Good one.

John Hughes.

It really started with National Lampoon’s Vacation.

Writer.

Chase.

Ramis was at the stick.

Egon from Ghostbusters.

Hughes really took off with Sixteen Candles.

He directed.

And that’s the first I saw of the big trilogy.

Those ’80s movies which transcend decade and genre:

Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink.

The middle one is the best.

Hughes needed a dry run with Sixteen Candles.

The Breakfast Club was the home run.

The grand slam.

Which leaves some holes.

European Vaction [writer].

Weird Science [hasn’t aged well…unless you’re a horny boy].

By Pretty in Pink, Hughes had relinquished direction to Howard Deutch.

Bueller [director] hasn’t aged that well.

WarGames [piece on #QAnon in the works] is much, much better.

Some Kind of Wonderful is another Deutch-directed hole.

Crosses paths with Back to the Future [Lea Thompson].

All of which is to say that Uncle Buck pales in comparison the the true Candy/Hughes masterpiece:  Planes, Trains and Automobiles [sic].

No Oxford comma.

Holes.

She’s Having a Baby [director].

PTA [director] was his second great auteurist masterpiece after The Breakfast Club.

But in Hughes, auteur once again becomes AUTHOR [in the sense of writing].

Hughes was no camérastylo savant–no Orson Welles or Hitchcock of angle and mise-en-scène.

It’s the story that matters.

And yet…Judd Nelson’s neorealist performance in The Breakfast Club must have made Hughes the Rossellini of the ’80s…if for only a moment.

[and Nelson its James Dean…briefly]

The Great Outdoors [writer] is worse than even Uncle Buck.

Which is to say, Uncle Buck is WAY better than The Great Outdoors.

But both pale in comparison to Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Christmas Vacation was a comeback.

Jeremiah S. Chechik owes his career to Hughes [writer] and Randy Quaid [genius].

Hughes only directed once more after Uncle Buck.

Curly Sue.

Sad.

And his writing went strictly downhill after the rollercoaster pinnacle of Home Alone.

Money isn’t everything.

 

-PD

 

Pretty in Pink [1986)

Here’s another great movie.

Yes, Harry Dean Stanton is reading Finnegans Wake.

And Stanton is great herein.

But the real star is Jon Cryer.

Yeah, you heard me right.

Yes.

Molly Ringwald is a good supporting actress to Cryer’s amazing performance.

But really, it’s the clothing which rules this movie.

Cryer and Ringwald have excellent outfits.

It’s a cute film.

But let’s delve.

Duckie (Cryer) really does a great job here.

Annie Potts is pretty awesome as Iona.

AND ANDREW “DICE” CLAY IS IN THIS!!!

What?!?

Yes, the Dice knows how to light a cigarette.

That’s about the end of his screen time.

The lamest part is Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy ending up together.

It’s about as bad as Ally Sheedy’s transformation in The Breakfast Club and Emilio Estevez’s sudden fealty.

But other than that one slight detail, I highly recommend Pretty in Pink.

Put it together with The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles and you have John Hughes’ trio of teen masterpieces.

For although Hughes did not direct Pretty in Pink, he did write it.

Alternately, Hughes both wrote AND directed The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles.

If I had to pick just one, I would say The Breakfast Club is the standout gem.

But all three films are excellent and deserve further study.

They are true masterpieces whose value has not yet been fully recognized.

 

-PD

The Breakfast Club [1985)

Essential films.

As film accrues decades.

Perhaps another century.

Even Godard hired Molly Ringwald.

Likely because these films touched him in some sort of Rebel Without a Cause way.

Either that, or the producer forced her on him.

But this film is really special.

Emilio Estevez is a dead ringer for Michael Flynn.

Which brings us back again:

Is #QAnon real?

We are drip-dropping back to war mode.

Full-on, shit-slinging war mode.

Slowly.

Fear us.

But for cinematic purposes, it is most direct to point out the two essential personages in this film:

Ally Sheedy and Judd Nelson.

And, boiled down, Judd Nelson.

Sheedy is attractive.

Mysterious.

Bat-shit crazy.

The Sheedy makeover is kinda lame.

The Estevez swoon mostly hollow.

But Judd Nelson is solid to the end.

This is a powerful film.

John Hughes created and directed the reality of John Bender (Nelson) onto the screen.

That’s would have been enough verismo for an entire career.

 

-PD