Oct 16, 2022

All That And A Bag Of Chips

90's Rewind Weekend
Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA
This year, the Mahoning Drive-In Theater have teamed up with their VHS Fest partners from Lunchmeat to bring us the first annual 90's Rewind Weekend.  It was a weekend of movies from the decade that began when I was a child and ended after I became an adult... well... at least in the legal sense of the word.  It was also a weekend filled with vendors and special guests, and it ended with a movie that completely caught me off guard as one of the most genuine and heartwarming comedies that I have ever seen.

Each movie was introduced by Josh and Phil of the VHSnackin' podcast.  I've not listened to this one before, but they seem like two good dudes, so I subscribed and I'll have something to listen to in between all of the Phillies podcasts that I'll be listening to at work this year.

There were about a dozen vendors on the lot between Friday and Saturday night, and if I was a rich dude, I'm sure I could have filled my trunk with enough awesome goodies to keep me busy all winter long.  As it stands, I'm pretty limited in both cash and the space in my home to put things, so there were quite a few awesome things that I had to pass up.

Over the winter, I'm going to be spending a lot of time working on a project to tidy up the basement and turn it into a rec room.  My plan it to set up part of this room to look like the mom-and-pop video rental stores that I used to love when I was growing up in the 80's and 90's, so I've been on the lookout for tapes, posters, and other movie and rental store-related paraphernalia that I could find to make it look nice.  When it comes to tapes, I'm not looking for things that are rare or valuable or anything like that - just looking for stuff that I enjoy that I can put on the shelves of my little mock-rental store and pop in the VCR and watch.  One of the vendors was a dude from LVAC, who are the folks who run the wrestling promotion that came to the Mahoning for the annual Reel Rumble weekend.  He was selling a bunch of different things, including DVDs of their wrestling shows.  I bought a copy of the Reel Rumble III that we were in attendance for this past June, but the thing that caught my eye was the boxes of VHS tapes at prices that I could not pass by - 30 tapes for ten bucks!

While I was browsing for tapes, I heard a guy behind me remark to his wife that one of the boxes of VHS tapes had a copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret Of The Ooze.  I turned around almost instinctively and said "yeah man, this guy has an awesome selection of tapes".  Then he smiled and told me that he worked on the film as a cameraman.  How freaking cool is that!  The man's name is Steve Head, and we got to talking for a while about the movies he had worked on in various roles, including Little Monsters (the second feature of Friday night's triple feature), as well as Rookie Of The Year, The Fugitive, Baby's Day Out and Ted.  That's pretty damn cool if you ask me.  I still remember my grandfather taking me to see the Turtles II movie when I was a kid.  It's a memory that I cherish, and now 31 years later, I happened to bump into one of the guys who filmed the scenes that brought me so much happiness when I was little.

The picture on the right are the two things that I picked up from the Lunchmeat merch table.  The first is a VHS copy of a 2020 documentary called Life After The Navigator.  It's about actor Joey Cramer who starred in one of my favorite movies when I was a kid, Flight Of The NavigatorMr. Cramer's life took a dark turn in the new millennium, which included an arrest for a bank robbery in Canada in 2016, but I understand that he has since turned his life around and this documentary captures that story.  I'll review it on here after we watch it.

The other thing that I bought from the Lunchmeat merch table was this sheet of stickers.  There were quite a few products during the 80's and 90's that came with a free complementary blank VHS tape, with some of them even being branded to the product.  These six tapes never existed, but it's a pretty awesome art project to imagine what a Pizza Hut, Burger King, Doritos, Jolt Cola, Hi-C Ecto Cooler and Surge tape might look like if they existed.

Last but not least, I picked up posters that once hung in a video rental store for three 90's films: Jurassic ParkEmpire Records, and The Matrix.  I love all three of these movies and their posters, but the one that I'm the most psyched about is The Matrix.  I had this exact same poster hanging on the closet door in my bedroom when I was a teenager, so it will definitely find a place on the wall in the basement.  It had a small tear on the side so the dude who was running this stand gave me a deal on it that was too good to pass up.

The last merch stand I wanted to mention was a husband and wife team who run a streaming video service called Write Brain TV.  They specialize in thought provoking films and documentaries, as well as movies from around the world that have had no other avenue for distribution.  If I had more spending money, I would have picked up a tape that they were selling called Nightcrawlers.  It's a documentary that was filmed by Stephen McCoy that showed the lives of people who are addicted to drugs and living on the streets of Boston.  Mr. McCoy was a high school senior when he began this project, and according to the man who I spoke with, he was not a drug user.  However, Mr. McCoy became homeless and addicted to heroin himself in the five year span that he spent making this film, and that remains the case to this day.  It's a lot darker than the things I usually watch, but I've lost a few friends over my lifetime to heroin, so it caught my attention.  It's currently available to stream on WriteBrainStudios.tv.

As much as this documentary has caught my interest, the films that were shown at the Mahoning this weekend were decidedly less dark and more family friendly, so before I go too far down the rabbit hole of controversial independent films, let's go ahead and move on to the six films that were shown for the first inaugural 90's Rewind Weekend

The first move of Friday night was the 1991 comedy Drop Dead Fred.  It's the only movie from the 90's Rewind Weekend that I saw when I was a kid, and I'm pretty sure that I have only watched it that one time and have never seen it since.  It's the story of a young woman named Elizabeth, played by Phoebe Cates, who grew up with an imaginary friend named Drop Dead Fred, who was played by Rik Mayall.  Only she could see or hear Fred, but he was real and other people could see the results of what he had done, most of which was blamed on Elizabeth.  After many years of not seeing or hearing from Fred, he comes back into her life when she's going through a divorce that forces her to move back in with her emotionally abusive mother. 

This isn't a movie that was a big fan of when I was a kid, and time hasn't really softened my stance on it.  It's not terrible and I don't hate it, but at the same time, it's not the kind of thing that I would ever watch again or strongly recommend to anyone.  It sort of feels like a made-for-tv movie that just happened to receive a theatrical release.  I will say that I had a very different perception of the story from adult eyes than I remember having when I was a kid, but I don't think that it made it any better or worse of a film - just different.  I'm glad to have had the opportunity to see it at the Mahoning and to see it from a different point-of-view than I had as a kid, but I think I'm good to rule this one out of any future viewings.

The second film of the night was the Fred Savage and Howie Mandel comedy, Little Monsters.  This movie stretches the theme of the weekend a bit.  It was actually premiered in theaters in August 1989, but its theatrical run was very limited and it really didn't find its audience until it was released on VHS to video rental stores in March 1990.  Since the 90's Rewind Weekend was all about movies that we would have rented back in the 90's, this fits the bill... but just barely.

I'm glad that it was included in the lineup whether you consider it an 80's or a 90's movie.  It's a fun family comedy that I've only watched one or two times before, and I'm very glad to have had the opportunity to see it on the big screen.   

The final movie of Friday night's triple feature was Dan Aykroyd's directorial debut, Nothing But Trouble.  It's a dark comedy flick that I had never even heard of before.  In fact, the only exposure I've had to this movie at all has come from the trailer reels that were shown at the Mahoning in the weeks leading up to the 90's Rewind Weekend.

Unfortunately, I fell asleep about halfway through the film, but that is in no way a reflection on the movie.  In fact, I was enjoying the hell out of it.  It's a bizarre comedy with a lot of laughs and an all-star cast that includes Chevy ChaseDemi MooreJohn Candy, and Dan Aykroyd.  It even includes Tupac Shakur, both in the soundtrack and as a character in the film in his acting debut.  The last scene that I remember was when everybody was sitting down to supper and the two Brazilians escaped custody.  The next thing I remember was the closing credits.

The problem is that I was awake for over 20 hours straight before the opening credits of Nothing But Trouble hit the screen.  I woke up just before 4 am on Friday and couldn't fall back to sleep.  Then, I had work and we left for the drive-in as soon as my shift was over, so I didn't catch a nap before the movies started.  This is a movie that I'm definitely going to watch again at home, but I'm disappointed in myself that I zonked out and missed my chance to see it in its entirety on the big screen.

There was a photo op set up outside the concession building that I didn't understand until we came back on Saturday.  They mentioned a few times on Mahoning Radio that Mister Bone Stripper was set up, but I had no idea what that meant because I'd never seen Nothing But Trouble.  I'm glad to say that I was awake long enough on Friday night into Saturday morning to catch the reference.

Night Two: Good Burger / Heavyweights / Angus

Thankfully, I was able to get a full night's sleep on Saturday morning.  In fact, I didn't wake up until after 11:00 am, so I had no trouble staying awake for all three films of the triple feature that was shown on Saturday night into Sunday morning.

The first film of the night was the 1997 Nickelodeon comedy, Good Burger.  I had heard of this before, but it was released in theaters just a few weeks after I turned 17; long after I had aged out of spending my afternoons watching Nickelodeon.  My wife saw it when she was a teenager and she described it to me as a silly and fun comedy that she thought I would enjoy, and she was spot on.  This film is a hell of a lot of fun!  It kind of reminded me of UHF in that it's a wacky, over-the-top, family friendly comedy about an underdog business that's fighting for its survival against a large, wealthy company that is hell bent on driving them out of business.

Good Burger is a movie that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to just about anyone.  Go into it with the expectation that you're going to see a silly and fun film that's appropriate for kids and I guarantee that you'll have a good time!

Heavyweights was released in theaters in February 1995.  That year was a particularly challenging time in my life, so this movie flew completely under my radar.  My wife told me that she showed me the DVD of this at some point, but I didn't remember that at all.  I don't know if I was especially tired that day, or if we never finished watching it, but even while we were watching it at the Mahoning, there were only one or two scenes that were vaguely familiar to me.  For all intent and purposes, this was my first time seeing this movie, and now that I've given it my full, undivided attention on the big screen, I highly doubt that I'll ever forget seeing it.  This movie is an absolute classic!

This movie stars a 14 year old Aaron Schwartz, who I know best as Dave Karp from The Mighty Ducks.  In this film, he plays an overweight young teenager named Gerry Garner who is upset that his parents have sent him to Camp Hope (a "fat camp") for the summer.  When he first arrives, it seems like it's going to all work out.  All of the other campers are good folks, and he learns that the owners of the camp are kind and decent people who have done a lot for many years to make this camp a lot of fun for the children who spend their summers there.  Unfortunately for the kids, the owners had to file for bankruptcy, and the camp ends up being sold to a psychotic fitness instructor, played brilliantly by Ben Stiller, who is using the camp as a vehicle to market a line of fitness instructional home videos while, at the same time, making the kids summer a living hell.  This movie is chock full of quotable lines and laugh-out-loud moments.  Much like Good Burger, it's a movie that I'd recommend to anybody at any age.

The last film of 90's Rewind Weekend ended up being my favorite of the event.  Angus was released to theaters in September 1995.  I don't remember hearing about it during its original theatrical run, but I was aware if its existence for many years after it came out on home video.

Obviously, the title of Angus begins with the letter A.  Because of this, it was usually placed at the end of a shelf in the comedy or family section.  The box was bright white with the title written in an orange font at the top, so it's the kind of box that your eyes are drawn to whether you're looking for it or not.  I must have walked past this tape at least a hundred times in my late teens and early twenties, including the store that I worked at, but I never brought it home to watch it.  In fact, I'm pretty sure I never even picked it up to read the back of the box.  It looked like a film for little kids, and since it came out when I was in high school, I guess I figured that it wasn't for me and never gave it a second thought.

This is one of the reasons that I love the Mahoning Drive-In Theater.  Not only does it give me the opportunity to see some of my favorite films in a theatrical setting that I never had a chance to see on the big screen, but it has opened the door to allow me to discover movies that I had never even considered before.  If not for the Mahoning, this movie would probably have stayed off my radar for the rest of my life.

I didn't just enjoy Angus - I absolutely loved it.  It's a heartwarming story, and it reaches a level of feeling genuine that very few movies can come close to reaching.  The title character was played by Charlie Talbert, and he is absolutely brilliant in every second that he's on camera.  Kathy Bates is incredible as always as his very kind and supportive mother, and legendary actor George C. Scott as his grandfather, who gives literally the best advice I have ever heard one character give another in a film.  James Van Der Beek (Dawson from Dawson's Creek) plays the antagonist, and Ariana Richards is the girl who Angus has a crush on.  I remember her best for her role as Lex, the granddaughter of park owner John Hammond in Jurassic Park.

I'm not going to offer a plot synopsis here because it wouldn't do justice to how excellent this film is, in the same way that the cover of the VHS tape doesn't.  You can stream it for a few bucks on YouTube, Amazon, and a few other places, and I seriously can't recommend it strongly enough.  It's easily one of the top ten family films I have ever seen, and I've got the Mahoning to thank for exposing me to this truly wonderful movie.

There's just two more weeks left in the drive-in season, but there's a lot of great films left on the calendar, including The Omen, Harry And The Hendersons, Bigfoot, Idle Hands, Final Destination, Drive-In Massacre, Driller Killer, Labyrinth, The Witches, Tricks 'R Treat (2007), Trick Or Treat (1986) and finally the 1973 classic, The Wicker Man.  I'm going to really miss this place during the winter.