May 19, 2024

Five Out Of Five Jamon Serranos

The Muppets Take Mahoning Again
Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA
Last year's The Muppets Take Mahoning event was such a rousing success that it was turned into a two day event for the 2024 season.

Show banner designed by Andrew Kern

Last year's event featured two movies featuring the cast of The Muppet Show, but they did things a little differently this season.  The first movie of each night was one of the traditional Muppet films, but the second half of each of the double features was a movie that featured Jim Henson creations that fall outside of Kermit's world.

Show poster by Gene Barretta

The poster for this weekend's event was designed by artist Gene Barretta.  He has worked on several Muppets and Sesame Street shows over the years, and his brother Bill has been a writer, performer, and producer for The Muppets since 1991.  We haven't met Bill, but we've become friends with Gene and his son Ben, both of whom are regularly a part of our right-front row crew that has developed over the years.

As he did at last year's event, Gene was the host/mc of The Muppets Take The Mahoning Again.  He had a table set up in the snack bar where he met with fans and signed copies of the children's books that he wrote and illustrated.  He also took a lot of pictures with and of the fans in attendance, one of which was from the roof of the digital projection booth.

His son Ben reminds me of The Kool Aid Man for his ability to pop up out of nowhere, create some sort of havoc, and then disappear just as quickly.  His first reaction to seeing his dad up on the digital booth was to steal the ladder to leave him briefly stranded.  It also inspired him to spend the rest of the weekend climbing on top of whatever building he could find.

The story above played out something like this:  Ben asked for permission to climb on top of the concession building to take a few pictures of the lot.  To his credit, Ben doesn't engage in most of his mischief unless he has permission, but this plays out kind of like the vampire plot device where they can't enter your home unless they're invited.  Once he gets permission, all bets are off.

Virgil apparently told him it was ok to go up and take a few pictures.  It's not completely unheard of.  Folks have done it before, but they're usually staff members at the Mahoning, not hyperactive college kids who are on a sugar high.  I'm not 100% sure if Ben was wondering if he could jump off of the building or if he was staying up there a little longer than he ideally should have.  What I am sure of is that Rob (the projectionist) was frantically following him around with a ladder asking him to climb back down.  Thankfully, Ben heard the tone in Rob's voice and knew that he meant business, and he climbed down before any tragedies could ensue.

Naturally, that wasn't the end of his climbing days, as he and his friend had resumed their climbing before the night was over.

Part of the Muppets Weekend at the Mahoning was a puppet show and a costume contest.  I didn't take part in either, but I most definitely had a puppet with me.  The little grey fellow is Bernie, a bagel-loving grouch from Conshohocken that our friend Kate made for me at last year's Muppet event.

Puppetry is most definitely in Kate's wheelhouse.  She has made quite a few of them over the years for herself and for others, and she brought a few of them to both nights.  My wife and I were incredibly proud of her for overcoming the nervousness to enter the puppet show, and of course she was awesome!

These photos are just a sample of the folks who took part in the puppet show over both nights.  There had to have been over two dozen different puppets, most of which were hand-made by guests at the Mahoning, including original creations who had their own characters developed by their creators long before this weekend.

The winner was a very talented man named Richard Gomez.  He entered the puppet show on Friday night with a group of friends and around ten puppets who sang a song that they made up on the spot (which each puppet singing something different).  That was pretty funny, but his routine on Saturday night was my favorite of the two.  I forget the names of the puppets, but the round green one said that he ate something that disagreed with him, after which the little blue one came out of his mouth and said "I'm sorry, but I can't support his politics".

The costume contest across both nights was also a lot of fun.  Again, these photos are just a sampling, but my favorite one was Gonzo wearing a chicken hat and carrying a chicken purse. 

There were intro videos from the cast and crew of the films on both nights.  I didn't record any of those, but I made a point to capture this because it's become a favorite at the Mahoning.  It doesn't play every night, but you'll see it at just about every family film weekend. 

The first movie of Friday night was the 1981 classic The Great Muppet Caper.  This wasn't my first time seeing it, but it's not a movie that I grew up with either.  I'm pretty sure that Angie introduced me to it sometime over the past ten years.  It's a fun story that I'm glad to have had the opportunity to see on 35mm.

While I wasn't overly familiar with The Great Muppet Caper, I'm very well acquainted with the second half of Friday night's double feature: The Dark Crystal.  This is a 1982 fantasy film that was co-directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz.  The cast is entirely made up of Jim Henson's creatures and was billed as the first live-action film without any human beings on screen.  Like the Muppets, these characters are made from animatronics and puppets that were controlled with rods and cables, but the similarities end there.

I saw The Dark Crystal for the first time as a teenager when I worked at Blowout Video and I immediately fell in love with it.  It's not a movie that I'd recommend to everyone, but if you're a fan of things like The Lord Of The Rings, Game Of Thrones, or The Neverending Story, I think that there's a lot about this movie that you would enjoy.

Saturday night's double feature kicked off with Muppets Most Wanted, which is simultaneously the reason why we almost didn't come to this event and the reason why we ended up coming after all.

My wife is a huge fan of the Muppets shows and movies that she grew up with in the 80's and 90's, but she's not an especially big fan of the stuff that has come out since she became an adult.  Frankly, it's all the same to me because I didn't grow up as a fan of The Muppets and I watched all of this stuff for the first time as an adult, but she has a hard time getting past the changes in the voice actors.  I can see where she's coming from.  I love the classic Loony Tunes, but I still to this day have not watched Space JamBilly West is an incredibly talented voice actor, and I'm sure all of the others who have voiced Bugs Bunny over the past thirty-odd years are as well, but the change in voice talent and the changes in writing and animation style make it just not the same to me.  I've liked the little bit of "new" Loony Tunes things that I've seen, but I can't really say that I loved any of it, so the desire to dig any deeper into it just isn't there for me, and for the most part, that's how my wife sees the "new" Muppets.

Two things changed our minds on this.  Ben told us during the off-season what Muppets movies would be screened this year.  My wife told him that we'd definitely be out on Friday, but we were going to skip Saturday because she's not really into the newer Muppet films.  He seemed crushed because it's his favorite Muppet movie, and he was the one who requested that it be included in this year's lineup.  Angie was tempted to say that we'd go to Saturday too, but she stood her ground.  The things that really tipped the scales was when Rob played the trailer for Muppets Most Wanted during Opening Weekend.  My wife found herself laughing at it and saying that she wanted to see it, so I replied "then why don't we just go see it on the big screen?"  I guess that was pretty tough logic to argue with, so we got tickets.  Ben and Rob may not have seen eye to eye on the rooftop debacle, but they unknowingly worked together to bring us out to the lot on Saturday night.

I'm glad that we did come out for this because Muppets Most Wanted is hysterically funny!  Angie ended up loving it, and honestly, I think it might be my new favorite Muppets movie out of the ones I've seen.  Sometimes the new stuff isn't too bad!

The final movie of The Muppets Take The Mahoning Again was the 1986 classic Labyrinth.  This was the original reason that I tried to talk my wife into overcoming her initial objections to Muppets Most Wanted.  Labyrinth is one of my all time favorites, but we already saw it at the Mahoning during the last weekend of the 2022 season, so I didn't push the issue.  I figured that I might go see it solo, or I might stay at home, but in either case, I had already gotten to see it on 35mm not too long ago.  Still, I'm glad that she changed her mind and we got to enjoy it one more time on the big screen.  It was the perfect way to close out the weekend at the drive-in.

May 18, 2024

Two Fuzzy Muppets In The Front Row

Friday was warm and dry, so it was a good day for little Harvey to come out to enjoy the drive-in.

May 17, 2024

Henry's Very Clever At Printing

Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA
This is a movie that I didn't originally intend to go to see at the drive-in, but it's been a pretty rough week and I needed to spend a few hours at my happy place.

Show banner designed by Andrew Kern

There were two other reasons that I made the last minute decision to come out to see Eraserhead.  The first is that it's a movie that I've heard of for a long time, but have never seen.  In fact, I didn't even know what it was about.  That's my preferred way to see any film; I like to know as little about it as possible beforehand and to just let the story on the screen define my experience, rather than to have that experience influenced by trailers or reviews.

The second reason is the fact that this was the first movie in the newest Mahoning Drive-In Theater series.  The Thursday Thread-Up series has replaced Tunnel Vision Tuesday for the 2024 season.  It's meant to be a night dedicated to cult classics.  Members of the drive-in can get tickets for any Thursday Thread-Up movie for five dollars, and everyone who attends gets a groovy little punch card that you can get punched for every Thursday night film that you see to earn some free goodies.

Before the film began, Rob and Krista screened a 35mm print of a Woody Woodpecker cartoon from 1957 called Box Car Bandit.  I hadn't seen this one before last night.  It's about a guy who has learned that a train that's passing through (which Woody happens to be riding in) is carrying gold bullion.  It plays out like a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, with the bandit suffering repeatedly in his attempts to rob the train.  It's pretty funny!  You can catch it in YouTube if you're interested.

Virgil overheard Rob and I talking before showtime about how I had never seen this movie before, and his reaction reminded me of a kid on Christmas morning who had just found their new puppy under the tree.  He said that it reminded him of Head (which we saw at Mahoning Monkee Mania a couple of years ago) and Pink Floyd - The Wall because it's a weird and trippy experience.  He wasn't lying!

Eraserhead is the kind of movie that I probably would have said that I hated if I saw it 20 years ago, but I've come to realize as I've gotten older that this reaction is a defense mechanism.  The truth is that I didn't understand it, and it makes me feel stupid when I don't understand something.  I don't pretend to be the smartest man in the world, but everybody has an ego and I am no exception.  That ego is like a little Yosemite Sam who lives in my brain and who has a habit of going on the attack against anything that threatens my self image.  It sounds something like this:
You didn't understand that movie?  It can't possibly be because you're not a film student, or because you never studied art academically, or because it's not something you've been exposed to before.  You're not stupid... the MOVIE is stupid.  Furthermore, anybody who claims that they understood it are faking it to try to look smart.
I allowed that kind of thinking to guide my opinions far more often in my life than I'd like to admit.  It still chirps in my ear from time to time, and when I heard the folks sitting around me on the lot applaud during the end credits, ol' Sam was just aching to blow his stack.  However, I'd like to think I've gotten a little bit better at recognizing this when it's starting to happen so that I can back away from the cliff that I've jumped off of so many times before.

The truth is that films like this aren't a threat to me, and there's absolutely no reason to get defensive and attack them or the people who enjoy them.  If I didn't understand the movie, then I didn't understand it.  Who cares?  There are a lot of things in this world that I don't understand, and that's true of literally everyone.

Even though I really didn't get what was happening, Eraserhead kept me on the edge of my seat.  The story in this film takes place in what feels like a bizarre parallel universe which reminded me of Halloween Town from The Nightmare Before Christmas.  I am absolutely the wrong person to ask what it was about, but I did a little reading this morning (particularly an essay by Peter Sobczynski) and I think I have a little better of an understanding about it now.  I'd like to do a little more digging and give it a second watch.  Bottom line: whether I end up figuring it all out or whether it continues to be a mystery to me, I'm glad to have had the opportunity to see it for the first time on 35mm at the drive-in.  It was definitely an experience that I won't forget.

May 16, 2024

Hey Buddy... You Like Potato Chips?

Meet Aaron Nola
Herr Foods Inc (2024)
Aaron Nola, who pitched a complete game shutout against the Mets on Tuesday, has partnered with Herr's Snacks for a promotion.  The winner receives two tickets to an upcoming game, along with a VIP tour of Citizens Bank Park and a meet-and-greet with the Phillies right hander.

Herr's is a Pennsylvania business that was created by and is currently run by members of the Herr Family.  This family includes former All-Star second baseman Tom Herr, who spent two seasons of his 13 year career with the Phillies.

May 15, 2024

Wouldn't You Like To Be A Coconut Too?

Dr Pepper Creamy Coconut
Keurig Dr Pepper (2024)
I really don't care too much for regular Dr. Pepper, but their limited edition variations tend to be very good.  Creamy Coconut might be my favorite one yet.

May 14, 2024

Pints and Pinball on Fulton Street

New Orleans World's Fair Flier
Aladdin's Castle (1984)
This incredible piece of arcade history was shared on the Aladdin's Castle Arcades Facebook group last year by Glenn Thomas.  This flyer was available during the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition, which kicked off forty years ago this month and ran through the summer and fall before closing on November 11th, 1984.

The Aladdin's Castle was next door to Sheila's Australian Pub, so if you were so inclined, you could spend the day drinking and gaming without ever having to cover too much ground.  If you were especially adventurous, you could get loaded, then head around the corner to pick up something to eat at Al Hirt's Seafood Warehouse before returning to the arcade for a few laps on Pole Position.  Surely that wouldn't cause any unpleasant side effects, right?

May 13, 2024

Totally Awesome Video Gaaaaame

Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA
The first Sunday night screening this season at the Mahoning was the all time king of cheesy 80's video game comedy films, the 1983 classic Joysticks.

If you've seen this movie even once in your life, its theme song is undoubtedly now stuck in your head.  If you haven't, click play and suffer with the rest of us!

Show banner designed by Andrew Kern

The night was centered around the movie's addition to the MVD Rewind Collection.  It was released on DVD and Blu Ray recently, and it comes packaged in an Atari 2600 style slipcover with a collectible double sided mini poster.  The disc includes a faux trailer for an 80's video game movie called Coin Slots, as well as an interview and directors commentary track from Greydon Clark, and a fan commentary from Eric D. Wilkinson, Heath Holland, and Jesse Nelson.

There was an Asteroids cocktail cabinet and a traditional Ms. Pac Man cabinet set up in the concession building.  Both games were set to free play for folks to come in and immerse themselves in 80's arcade gaming culture before showtime.

Before the trailer reel, there was a series of nice video introductions that were sent to the Mahoning.  The first was from Joysticks director and producer Greydon Clark.  Next was from actress Becky LeBeau, who made her film debut in Joysticks.  She also has a small role in my favorite horror comedy of all time, Transylvania Twist.  Last, but not least, there was a very funny intro from my favorite character from Joysticks, King Vidiot, played by the absolutely brilliant comic actor Jon Gries.

King Vidiot - Joysticks (1983)                   Uncle Rico - Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

Jon Gries is freakin brilliant in everything that I've ever seen him in.  In addition to his roles in Joysticks and Napoleon Dynamite, he played tunnel dwelling student Lazlo in Real Genius, and he's had roles in TerrorVision, Running Scared, The Monster Squad, Fright Night 2, Get Shorty, Men In Black, The Rundown, and the Taken trilogy.

The trailer reel that was shown before the feature included a 35mm commercial for the release of Dig Dug in arcades.  I never knew that they even had commercials for arcade games in theaters.  Dig Dug first appeared in North American arcades in Spring 1982 and it became a massive success for Namco and Atari.

I wrote about this film last March on the 40th anniversary of its release so I'm not going to write a full review here, but it is the epitome of a cheesy early 80's comedy.  It premiered in theaters when I was two years old so I obviously wasn't able to see it on the big screen during its initial run, but I'm extremely glad to have had the opportunity to see it screened from an original 35mm print at my favorite place in the world to watch movies.

May 12, 2024

There's No Place Like Home

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory / The Wizard of Oz
Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA
It has been a long winter, but we're back at our home away from home.

Show banner designed by Andrew Kern

The season was originally scheduled to start on the weekend of April 26th and 27th, but it was postponed due to the passing of owner and master projectionist Jeff Mattox.  Jeff was an incredible dude who kept this place going as a vintage 35mm drive-in at a time when practically everyone said he was crazy for doing so.  He worked to turn it into what it has become; a mecca for movie lovers, and a place where we can all get together, make friends, enjoy a bite to eat, and relive old favorites (and discover new old favorites) on the big screen under the stars.  He also brought together a team of awesome folks who are dedicated to keeping the Mahoning Drive-In Theater going in his memory.

Show banner designed by Andrew Kern

This weekend, and every show that follows, has been dedicated to Jeff's memory.  He was the man behind the curtain, but you didn't need a little dog to pull back the curtain at the Mahoning.  He would welcome you into the projection booth and show you how everything worked, and he loved chatting about movies and music with anyone who wanted to pop in and say hello.  His spirit is going to live on in this place for as long as people gather here, which I expect to be a very, very long time.

There was a table set up in the concession building in honor of Jeff.  It included photos, personal mementos, and things that he especially enjoyed.  Included in the display was the Lifetime Achievement Award ("the Hubbie") that was given to Jeff by Joe Bob Briggs at the 2021 Drive-In Jamboree.

There was also a special item at the concession stand dedicated to Jeff.  His favorite specialty food that the Mahoning served up were meatballs marinated in a pineapple barbecue sauce.  You could get either meat or meatless ones in a bowl with a Wizard Of Oz pick.  They were very tasty!

The concession building was decorated for the traditional Opening Weekend double feature of The Wizard Of Oz and Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, including a massive balloon statue of Willy Wonka, and a very cool Willy Wonka poster from Opening Weekend 2017.

The merch table had a lot of very cool things available, including this pin from Geek Boy Press that celebrates the start of the 75th year of movies under the stars at the Mahoning Drive-In Theater.

Front                                                                              Back

Another cool item to celebrate the Mahoning's 75th year were these 3/4 sleeve baseball shirts.  They were designed by the main drive-in poster artist Tom Bifulco.  There were two versions: grey with black sleeves, and the one that I picked up which was black with red sleeves.

Front                                                                            Back

The other shirt that I picked up was a red and orange tie-dye to commemorate Opening Weekend 2024.  This was designed by illustrator Paige J. Beil (@unearthlymoss).

October 29, 2022
May 11, 2024

Jeff liked to play 35mm reels of vintage cartoons before and between features at the Mahoning.  They aren't played every night, but they're always a welcome surprise when they hit the screen.

Although 35mm film can last for a very long time under proper storage conditions, it doesn't last forever.  Eventually, the film will break down and suffer what is known as vinegar syndrome, so named for the vinegar scent that films give off when this happens.  When it begins, the breakdown is irreversible.  The print is on borrowed time before it becomes too brittle or crystalized to run through a projector.

One of the cartoons that we saw at the Mahoning a few times over the past three years was a 1956 Warner Brothers Merrie Melodies short called Wideo Wabbit.  It was screened for the last time this past season, and it became clear to the team that the film had degraded to the point where it wasn't going to be playable again.  Normally a print is just thrown away when this happens, but Rob decided to save this one, and he and fellow projectionist Krista cut it up into strips to give away to folks on the lot as a souvenir.  They also cut a one second long strip of the film to hang in the projection booth so that when people visit, they have a visual aid to learn exactly how much film it takes to show a single second of film on the screen.  It's touches like this that make the Mahoning Drive-In Theater truly special.  It's a living museum where everyone is welcome to not only enjoy great films, but to learn about every aspect of motion pictures from men and women whose passion for what they do is second to none.

There were a few cartoon shorts played on Saturday night.  The first one, which played before the first film of the night, was a Mickey Mouse short from 1935 called The Band Concert.  It's notable for not only being the first Mickey Mouse cartoon to be produced in color, but for its role reversal in which Donald Duck plays the laid back, fun loving character to a frustrated and angry Mickey.

Friday night's double feature began with The Wizard Of Oz and ended with Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, but the Saturday night show that we were in attendance for showed the two films the other way around.  It's not the first time that we've watched these two films at the Mahoning, but it's always nice to get together with our friends after a long winter to take in two of the classics.

There were two different Bugs Bunny cartoons shown from original 35mm prints during intermission.  The first was a short from 1948 called Hot Cross Bunny, and the second was from 1949 (the year that the Mahoning Drive-In Theater opened) called Rebel Rabbit.

Last, but not least, we were treated to a screening of what is probably the most well-known movie of all time, The Wizard Of Oz.  It was released in 1939, and it's still every bit as entertaining and beautiful on the big screen as it was when audiences first watched it 84 years ago.

And that's a wrap on Opening Weekend 2024, but it's just the start of the 75th consecutive year in operation of a little slice of heaven in a small town in Pennsylvania.  We've got a lot of good stuff to look forward to this year!